Tzlofchad's daughters file a claim with Moshe. In the absence of a brother, they request their late father's portion in the Land. Moshe asks
G-d said to Moshe, ‘Take to yourself Yehoshua ben Nun, a man in whom there is spirit.” (27:18)
George Bernard Shaw said, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” (“And those who can’t teach, teach teachers,” say others.)
Of course this is, as are most funny lines, a gross oversimplification. But like all gross oversimplifications, they contain a kernel of truth. I seem to remember hearing at school that the proof of understanding something was the ability to teach it to someone else. I’m not sure that’s always true. Arguably, Irving Berlin was one of the greatest songsmiths of the last century, but he composed his songs on a one-key piano (F sharp) with a lever under the keyboard to manipulate a fuller range. Asked what effect a more sophisticated musical education would have had on his talent, Berlin replied: “Ruin it.”
I was struck by a much deeper parallel to this idea in the Kuzari by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (completed in 1140). The Kuzari is subtitled “In defense of the despised faith.” The philosophers that Rabbi HaLevi was addressing ridiculed prophecy because they had never been able to achieve it. They were able to intellectualize about
Rabbi HaLevi gives an analogy: Some people can expound on the rules of poetry and are very precise about its meter. On the other hand, a naturally-gifted poet can ‘taste’ the poem’s meter and is able to produce flawless poetry. The prophet is like the naturally-gifted poet. He seems like an ignoramus only because he can’t teach rhythm to others — unlike the poetry teachers. The truth is that a naturally-gifted person can in fact teach someone else — provided that his pupil is also gifted — because only the slightest amount of suggestion is needed.
The same is true of the nation that is naturally-gifted in Torah and coming close to
“Take to yourself Yehushua ben Nun, a man in whom there is spirit.”
Moshe Rabbeinu was like the sun and Yehoshua was like the moon. (Bava Batra 75b) The sun doesn’t teach — it radiates, and someone with spirit can pick up those rays. Yehoshua never departed from Moshe’s tent (Shemot 33:11) — not even when he wasn’t teaching him — because for someone of spirit the essential lessons are imparted in the pauses in life’s dialogue as much as the script.
- Sources: Introduction to the Kuzari by Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin